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Rosslyn Chapel Edinburgh Reviews
Rosslyn Chapel Jan 02, 2012
Please bear in mind they ask you not to take photos, which means that these couple of snaps are the outside, and they don't do it anywhere near enough justice. The website has a lot of lovely photos: http://www.rosslynchapel.org.uk/
Roslyn Chapel is one of the most interesting buildings in Scotland. Constructed in the 1450s using an international team of the best workmen in Europe, it has some of the most beautiful examples of stone carvings from the Middle Ages anywhere and a host of fascinating symbolism and mysteries.
Much of the stone carving is almost uniquely detailed, partly because it has been inside where a lot of the stone carving that survived the reformation in Northern Europe was outside, so the carvings are very well maintained. The level of detail is stunning. Every pillar seems to have a devil, dragon or set of little people acting out parables or stories.
Amongst the most famous is the dance of death arch, showing a grim reaper skeleton taking away people from all walks of life. Death takes a lady with a mirror, a king, a bishop, a ploughman and all sorts of other people away. There is a carving on a lintel showing the deadly sins on one side, and the virtues on the other, except that Greed and Charity got on the wrong sides. No one is sure whether this is a mistake, or whether this is a hint that the holiest people can still slip into sin and the worst sinners can still be saved. On a pillar, a disappointed devil scowls miserably whilst a married couple turn away from him towards a cross. And there are dozens of pagan-looking Green Men, with leaves coming out of their ears and mouths.
The chapel drips in legends. At the front are two pillars; the master and the apprentice. Legend tells us that the master carved the first, and then went abroad to find inspiration for the second. Meanwhile, the apprentice dreamed how to do the second and did it perfectly. When the master came back, he was so jealous that he murdered the apprentice and then was hanged (his face, the apprentice, and the grieving mother are all depicted on the ceiling). Weirdly, the base of the apprentice’s pillar appears to be carved with the eight dragons in Viking myth who were chewing on the world tree Ygdrasil. There is also an arch that appears to show maize, but was carved hundreds of years before maize appeared in Scotland. There is a legend that the Knights Templar found America before Columbus, but to be honest, the carvings could as well be slightly abstract.
Which brings us neatly onto the Knights Templar. There is little doubt that the St Clair family were Templars before 1312, and even less doubt that they were senior in the Freemasons when the chapel was renovated hundreds of years later. So there is plenty of scope for DaVinci Code style conspiracies and spotting symbolism. But it’s not something I know much about and medieval Christianity is full of plenty of wonderful mythology and symbolism on its own, without imposing modern novels on it.
Entrance is about £8.75 for adults, with discounts for students. This pays for extensive renovations and preservation works. The scaffolding around the outside doesn’t at all affect the magical interior. Spotting dragons and so on should keep children happy whilst you look around, and although the crypt has steep steps, it isn’t the highlight and the rest of the chapel should be fine if you’ve got mobility problems (I might phone ahead if you have a large wheelchair, but there are definitely ramps). There’s a tea room and a gift shop (somewhat inevitably). Tours are available, but the information signs are good enough to cope without.
Part of the 2012 - The UK travel blog
Part of the list Things I have done in Scotland
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